Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five strategies to stay motivated.

Unclutterer (whose fabulous editor-in-chief is one of my clients!) had a terrific and very timely post yesterday titled Five strategies to stay motivated. I'm biased, of course, but this post is a great example of why Unclutterer remains one of my very favorite websites; there's something for everybody, and the advice is always really down-to-earth and approachable.

Motivation is especially hard, I think, if you're self-employed, as all writers are on some level. Day job or no, there isn't really anyone to tell you to work on your novel (or your book proposal, for you nonfiction types). Especially if you've got a day job, I think, it takes a lot of self-discipline to sit down and write: when you'd rather sleep an extra hour, when there's so much great TV piling up on the DVR, when cleaning the bathroom sounds like more fun, when it's August.

Go read Deb's Unclutterer post, and below I'll tell you how I'd adapt her five tips to the writing life:  

1) Make a list and a short-term plan: Set small, manageable goals for yourself. You know yourself better than anyone: if you're a planner, map out a schedule and a deadline for your current chapter of your WIP. If you're a seat-of-your-pants'er, set yourself a daily word count goal and stick to it. Making lists is not about setting yourself impossible tasks, it's about clarifying your priorities so it's easier to stick to them.

2) Think of the end result: Everybody's got big dreams for themselves, or should, but I encourage you to think not about a three-book deal with your Dream Publisher, complete with an advance that falls into "quit your job" territory, but about the innate sense of achievement in finishing your WIP and starting your next one. The Romance Writers of America, in an effort to best serve their members' evolving needs, have different tiers of membership for writers at different stages in their careers. I'll mention two:
-PAN (Published Authors Network), for authors who are published by a royalty-paying publisher, who have achieved a certain sales threshold in terms of their royalties income (it's a fairly modest one).
-PRO (which is not an acronym) is for RWA members who have completed a manuscript and have begun the process of finding an agent or a publisher, but who have not yet reached PAN status. What I love about the PRO category is that it recognizes this stage of an author's career as an accomplishment. You finished the manuscript. You're actively pursuing your goal of publication. That is a big deal and deserves recognition. PRO membership, as all the PRO members I've ever met will tell you, is a stepping stone to bigger things, one hopes, but it's wonderful to acknowledge the achievement of having made it this far.

3) Go ahead and do something else. I rarely write anything much longer than a submission letter, an email, or (sometimes) a blog post, but even if all I'm doing is putting together a page and a half of edit notes for a client, I like to let it sit for a few hours, sometimes overnight, before beginning the process of putting my thoughts to paper or keyboard. I do my best writing first thing in the morning, after I've had a cup of coffee or three, and before the minutiae of my inbox has taken over my brain. If I try to write a submission letter with no pre-planning just before lunchtime, it can take over the rest of my day. If I've planned to think about how to say something specific, often as not, when I sit down to write, the words just flow. The "fallow period" in writing is really important. Go pull the weeds in your yard, or take your kid to the park, or go for a run. Your brain is still working on the manuscript.

4) Start with the easiest thing first. Whether you're a planner or a "pantser," I give you permission to skip around in your manuscript and write the parts you already know how to write. Just don't forget to go back and do the hard ones.

5) Phone a friend. There are a couple of ways to pull this off as a writer who's struggling with motivation, I think, but they both come back to finding someone who will empathize and yet still hold you accountable. I have a number of clients who like me to create a (wholly artificial) deadline for their WIPs, because it's easier for them to make themselves sit down and write if they feel like I'm tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for it.  You could do the same thing with a critique partner, a spouse, or even just a friend who will promise to check in on a regular basis to see how the manuscript is coming along.

And here's my addition to the list, my own best strategy for staying motivated:

6) Fake it 'till you make it. Your energy level (and your love for your WIP) is naturally going to ebb and flow. Sometimes you need to force yourself through a period of resistance. Try setting a timer to see how many words you can write in 15 minutes, or tell yourself you can't get up from the computer until you've written 500 words on that scene you've been avoiding. If you can push past your mental block, usually--eventually--it'll get easier.

What are some of your strategies for keeping yourself motivated?


Adele Carsson said...

The stars are aligning, it seems...not only have I spent the past two weeks procrastinating because of the heat here (Northeast); I have also been trying to find new ways to get motivated.

Fake it 'til you make it - that's what it has come down to. Lists are great, character outlines, all that jazz. But the only thing that has actually worked for me has been to set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier than I usually wake up, and to use that quiet time before the kids wake up to write, write, write. Even if I end up tossing out half of it later on.

P.S. You have a full of mine, but I'm posting this under my alter ago.

Kara said...

This..."when it's August."

What is it about August? Is it the heat? The relative stillness of EVERYTHING? The fact that everyone seems to be on vacation, literally and metaphorically? Man...August kinda sucks.

Fake it 'til you make it, I say. Eventually September will happen. In the literal sense and in that "things will get better" sense. September is bound to happen.

Unknown said...

Plans and friends and goals are always what gets me going. Thus, I'm always more productive in November compared to the rest of the year.